A QUICK, BUDGET-FRIENDLY MEAL
The warmer weather had not quite hit yet, so it seemed right that we were heading out for some steaming pho.
The destination: Pho Dui Bo, a family-run business which has been on Cannon East near the intersection with James since 1999. (Its name changed about a month ago, from Pho Dau Bo.)
Parking close to the restaurant can be a bit of a challenge; spaces out front are limited and shared with neighbouring businesses. Fortunately, a car pulled out soon after we had unsuccessfully tried to squeeze into a tight spot.
Across the building’s f acade each window pane has a frosted strip that says “Welcome.” But don’t expect f awning wait staff here. The goal is quick and tasty and, on many fronts, Pho Dui Bo delivers. That is not to say there is no ambience. Plants are scattered throughout the restaurant; one, possibly a braided money tree, stretches up behind light wood counters f acing the entry for a homey touch.
A young woman quickly seated us at a table. Lots of room for larger groups. Near us, a couple of people worked on laptops as they ate solo, and a few f amilies filled in other tables. As we sipped steeped tea, we looked through the novel of a menu. I grabbed a pencil to write down our order amid the whir of a blender that drowned out barely audible background music.
I was looking forward to trying the pennywort leaf milkshake. I looked up pennywort online and found out it is an herb native to Asia. An herb milkshake?
Our drinks arrived quickly and the milkshake did not disappoint. Pea soup green, and tasting like mildly sweet parsley. Surprisingly delicious!
My two companions for the evening got a coconut shake and a salted lime juice. The shake was full-on coconut, in smoothie form. The salted lime juice was like a bubbly, soda-based margarita, without the booze. Both were refreshing.
After a little conversation, out came … everything else. The dishes arrived in a flurry, with a brief pause between each delivery. We had ordered plenty, of course, and the plates got shifted around as each new dish arrived.
First, the steamed rice rolls with Vietnamese sausage. Mildly spiced ground pork inside a warm and pleasantly stretchy, rice noodle wrap. Dipped in the sweet, vinegary nuoc cham sauce served with it, the rolls were comforting and pleasant.
The bologna-like slices of sausage that came on the side had a Spam-like texture that did not resonate with me.
The mango salad was enormous. At $10.75 it wasn’t exactly cheap, but its size justified the price. The pickled carrots and daikon ran a little on the sweet side, but in a satisfying way. With fresh mint thrown in and sliced beef adding the umami element, it was a refreshing assortment of flavours.
Next, the much anticipated pho. Steaming noodles, with rare beef and “well done lightly fat beef.” A plate of bean sprouts and sprig of basil on the side. The sliced onions on top were not cooked through, which was a tad unusual. But the piping hot broth was welcome. Not unflavourful but not the richest broth, either, it had a laid-back base that became quite tasty after I
added the hot sauce, basil and sprouts provided.
Our server checked in a couple of times while we were occupied with the feast before us.
Seafood and pork soup, hu tieu my tho: quite nice with a heady, sweet broth suggesting clams and crab, and parsley adding an herby undercurrent. But the egg noodles were thin and lacked character while the barbecue pork tasted slightly cured and had a chewy texture, somewhat akin to prosciutto.
The highlight was the sautéed eggplant with chicken and rice. Soft, with a mild chicken sauce. And, with a little hot sauce added, just the thing to warm me up.
The last thing we tasted was the pad Thai. Again, a bit unusual: bright orange, like Denver Broncos’ uniforms, with a sauce that went heavy on the tomatoes. Sliced onions on top again, along with scallions, peanuts and a lime wedge on the side. I wouldn’t have minded some fish sauce flavour but the dish was pleasant, if a touch sweet.
I tried to catch our server’s eye a couple of times to get the cheque, before realizing that diners just head to the front counter to settle up. The woman who cashed me out was brisk yet friendly when I asked her how long the restaurant had been open.
Eighteen years. Plenty of time to master the art of the quick, budget-friendly meal.
And if you don’t feel like coming downtown, there are locations (both called Pho Dau Bo) on Upper James and in Stoney Creek.
Alana Hudson has cooked at restaurants including Le Bernardin, Vong, and Avalon.
Sliced beef topped the mango salad, which was pleasantly sweet.
The goal is quick and tasty and, on many fronts, Pho Dau Bo delivers.